Charleston, South Carolina is so rich in American history and culture! It’s a fabulous place to visit if you want a quiet, easy vacation. I had heard so many great things about Charleston – in fact, ONLY great things – about the city so my expectations were high when Sam and I took this mini-trip down south two weeks ago. It did not disappoint!
I took a very inexpensive flight from Reagan International Airport to Charleston. The flight took less than 2 hours and cost me about $100. Parking at Reagan cost me the same amount for four days Sam had rented a car for us while there but really we didn’t need to use it except to get to and from the airport.
Charleston is a walking city. I would encourage you to walk as much as possible. There is something to see around every corner from old estate homes, to the Charleston Market, historical sites and restaurants on every corner. You’ve got to explore on foot.
Where to Stay
We stayed in the heart of Charleston at the King Charles Inn. It’s centrally located on Meeting Street, the main drag in the city’s downtown historic district. The customer service at this place was phenomenal. Actually, one of my favorite things about Charleston is how friendly the people were there. Everybody seemed in a good mood ALL the time. But I digress….the furnishings were modern with a sitting area on the main floor and a restaurant with some damn good coffee. I didn’t really eat there so I can’t speak to the food. Our room was clean and had a walkout balcony with sliding glass door and a small table and chairs for relaxing. The only drawback I could mention is that the balcony looked out over the parking lot, but at a hotel in the city, you’ve got to expect that. The furnishings in the room were contemporary with a desk and lounge chair, comfy bedding and a beautifully modern bathroom with granite countertops. Free WIFI to boot! OK so I like the hotel – A LOT.
What to See
Charleston is famous for its historical sites and its ghost tours. We could have done so much more as far as tours go while there but we were satisfied with just walking around and taking advantage of not having a schedule.
Ghost Tours – Old Charleston Walking Tour
There are so many ghost tours to choose from that we opted for a Yelp search, despite a few recommendations for Bulldog Tours, and simply picked one out of convenience. We settled on Old Charleston Walking tour with Mike, as our guide. He seemed to know his stuff. Got 5 stars on Yelp. He started the tour off by telling us the legend of Lavinia Fisher, who is infamous as America’s first female serial killer. We moved around the city to each haunted location. The cemeteries freaked me out a little bit. It was drizzling, dark, cold and the perfect backdrop to the mood of the tour.
My favorite parts were the legend of Zoe falling down the inside steps of Poogan’s Porch haunting restaurant patrons in the bathroom (AAAHHHHHH! I would die if I saw a ghost in the mirror while washing my hands. I’d probably have to do my business again!) The story of Annabelle Lee haunting Unitarian Church Graveyard was fascinating to me as I’m from Baltimore, home of Edgar Allen Poe. The tour struck up some emotion in me which is what it was supposed to do so 2 thumbs up to Mike and this company.
Battery Park, Fort Sumter and the waterfront walkway
Battery Park and Fort Sumter are located at the end of Meeting Street, only about a mile up the road from our hotel…(maybe not a mile, I didn’t really keep track because it was such a nice day for walking).
We walked along the waterfront and took in the views of the water. The view is lacking to be honest. This seagull gave it some character. There’s a bridge (eh), and muddy embankment that smells like do-do (ugh), but the park is pretty to walk through with fountains and a pier with swings.
SO the really cool thing about the venturing out on the pier is that there are dolphins swimming around in there! No lie!! Everyday, we saw a few in the water really close to the pier. I was shooting with a wide angle lens so I couldn’t get a close shot. Sam snapped this one with his phone!
True Charlestonians (Charelstonites?) will tell you that they are NOT dolphins – they are porpoises but I don’t know the difference nor do I care to look it up. It’s just wild to see them in a city environment whatever they are…
So on to Battery Park and Fort Sumter….Admittedly I’m not a history buff, but those of you that are and still reading this will appreciate Battery Park. It has cannons, memorials and statutes commemorating this moment in time. It’s unbelievable that you are walking around in a place where so many people lost their lives for our country. We literally stopped in our tracks when we came across this relic….
WTH?! You’d never see a working public phone in Washington D.C.! You’ll be happy to know that phone calls are still 50 cents….LOL
Charleston City Market
Located on Market Street, it is deemed Charleston’s most visited attraction. From hand-crafted sweetgrass baskets and other homemade products, it is the hub for authentic Charleston goods.
Horse-Drawn Carriage Rides
There are horses everywhere carrying visitors all over the city. We didn’t take a carriage ride but I wanted to. We ran out of time. I was a little concerned about the care of the horses, specifically their feet, from working all those hours pulling loads of people on the hard city streets. I had a brief conversation with one of the carriage operators who assured me that they wear thick shoes that act as super shock absorbers, kindof like Jordan’s for horses. I did observe their hooves and these special shoes firsthand and man are they thick! so my concerns were quickly quashed.
(WOW this is a long post…are you still with me?)
Where to Eat
Charleston has more restaurants than churches. The town knows it’s food! East Bay Street houses most of the restaurants in the town so it’s easy to walk along and just pick a place.
Oysters, oysters, oysters. Yum! When you’re traveling, you’ve got to eat every meal out so it’s important to know where to go. I would recommend 3 restaurants in Charleston.
Dinner – Pearlz Oyster Bar
Amazing food and inexpensive, not cheap, just inexpensive. We ordered a dozen fresh shucked oysters and swallowed them down in 10 seconds. There is an oyster menu so variety is not lacking. OMG and everything has bacon in it! Enough said, right? Pearlz opens at 4p (at least in the off-season). Good for a casual dinner of seafood and a brew.
Lunch or Dinner – Amen Street Fish and Raw Bar
We found ourselves at Amen’s two times…once for lunch and once for dinner. This appears to be a popular place to eat. We ate oysters again, toasted with oyster shooters and enjoyed the happy hour menu items such as crispy calamari steak slices, prepared with corn salsa and yes, bacon.
Snack Food – O’Hara and Flynn Wine Bar
What we loved about this place was the quiet atmosphere. Eclectic furnishings, live local music, a small menu of cheese and charcuterie made this one of our favorite places to end a long day of site-seeing. Don’t let the name fool you….it’s not an Irish bar at all….a very nice German man owns this bar. It has a large selection of wine, including a 2009 Bordeaux, which should tell you a little about the quality of the wines offered there. We loved this place!
The Locals Recommend….
Husk Restaurant on Queen’s Street
FIG, stands for “Food is Good ” The word on the street is that the food is not only good, but exceptional. We were going to eat there as the waitress at O’Hara’s and Flynn’s highly recommended it and told us that there is usually a 3 month waiting list. Ultimately, we passed it up for more a more casual dining experience at Amen’s.
Brown Dog Deli on Broad Street. We did eat here on a recommendation by a local, but I can’t say that I would go out of my way to eat here again. It’s a deli with some interesting menu choices. Sam ordered elk chili. I ate a massive sandwich, Wes’ French Onion Grilled Cheese. I ate the-WHOLE-thing-by-MYSELF. OMG, I can’t believe I’m telling you that….check out the menu and decide for yourself.
What NOT to do in Charleston….
Do not, I repeat, DO NOT sit in on a timeshare presentation. Kicking myself on this one. Sam and I had never done one of these on all our travels and now we know why….it was an utter waste of time. Wasted the whole morning…
A guy accosted us on Meeting Street with this “great deal” with “free tours.” After some haggling, we begrudgingly agreed to go the next morning. We had to give the guy $20 bucks to reserve our spot for the presentation the next day. He was honest about it all. The catch is that you get your money back once you show up for the presentation and then you get your “free tour vouchers” after the presentation. Dry. Boring. No sale. The upside is that we did receive $125 bucks on a visa card to spend wherever we wanted and a 2-fer at Brown Dog Deli. It was painful to sit through the presentation even with the extra money.
OK so that is all folks! Obviously, there is a ton of things to see, do and eat in Charleston. If you make it down South, I’d love to know what you think of the places I’ve recommended in this post.